Football The Rivalry

The 11 Words That Changed The Game For A Generation

One of the most memorable moments in college football’s greatest rivalry actually came on a basketball court. Exactly 17 years ago today, new Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel took the microphone at halftime of the Buckeyes’ basketball game against… who else? Michigan.

He had already won over many Buckeye fans earlier that afternoon with an impressive introductory press conference, but no one remembers that now. They remember what he said at the Schottenstein Center.

“I can assure you that you will be proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field.”

At the time, Ohio State was just 2-10-1 in its last 13 matchups against the Wolverines, and had gone 0-6 in its previous six trips to Michigan Stadium, suffering a mixture of humiliating blowout losses, national title-crushing defeats, and season-defining disappointments.

In the 6,209 days since Tressel walked off that court to raucous cheering, OSU is 15-2 in The Game, including a 7-2 record in Ann Arbor. He didn’t drop that mic at the Schott that night, but he spent the next ten Novembers doing it over and over again.

In honor of that speech, here are some of the favorite Tressel-era memories from Ozone staffers.

Jim Tressel 2002 Purdue Holy Buckeye
The OSU job ages coaches faster than the Presidency.

Tom Orr

Somewhere between 309 and 311 days after Tressel’s big introduction, I found myself on the camera deck of Michigan Stadium for the 2001 edition of The Game. At the time, Michigan Stadium held nothing but bad memories.

I had traveled up two years earlier, listened to the entire stadium cheer when John Cooper was introduced, and then watched OSU get flagged for 13 penalties to Michigan’s one in a 24-17 loss that ended the Buckeyes’ bowl chances.

Two years before that, I was in the second row of the end zone where Charles Woodson returned a punt. You may remember it. Before that came Tim Biakabutuka, 28-0, and Desmond Howard.

By the time they crossed the border in late November, OSU had already lost four games and was playing without its suspended starting quarterback, Steve Bellisari. Things didn’t look promising.

Then Jonathan Wells ran in a 1-yard touchdown. 7-0 OSU. Wells converted a 4th-and-1 with a 46-yard score to make it 14-0. Then he added an 11-yard touchdown to stretch it to 21-0. One hilarious botched Michigan snap for a safety later, OSU led it 23-0 at the half.

However, Wells sprained his ankle and missed the second half. In what would soon become classic Tressel fashion, the fill-in quarterback (Kreutzel? Kretzen? something like that…) did juuuuust barely enough and the Buckeyes ended up holding on for dear life for a 26-20 win.

One year later, another win in The Game would punch the Buckeyes’ ticket to the national title game. But at the moment, all that mattered was that the old streak was dead. Long live the new streak.

Tony Gerdeman

I don’t have one specific memory, but I do have a story.

For the better part of a century, Michigan football was a bully. A real, true, arrogant jerk. He picked on people. He was rude. Sometimes he even pushed people down stairs. He was basically ungovernable. And after every assault, tantrum, taunt, or tussle, his mom would throw her hands up in the air and tell him the same thing.

“Wait until your father gets home!”

Celebrating in Ann Arbor in 2005.

“Yeah, whatever,” Michigan football thought. This was an empty threat from a mother who was at her wit’s end with the world’s worst child. Michigan football had no fears, and there were never any reprisals. They were on a constant warpath, and the Big Ten would flinch reflexively with just the lift of a single Michigan finger.

There was no getting through to Michigan football. No settling them down.

That is, until one fateful evening exactly 17 years ago tonight.

That was the night when Michigan football saw Jim Tressel say those now-famous words.

“…and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan…”

It was at that moment when the realization hit.

“Oh s—,” Michigan football said to itself. “Dad’s home.”

Chip Minnich

Jim Tressel and Chip Minnich

My favorite memory is when Coach Tressel wrote my father a letter before we attended the Ohio State/Wisconsin game in 2009.  I wrote it about last summer.  It was a great honor meeting him at an Avon Lake high school football game this past fall.

If I had to pick something exclusively Ohio State football related, it would have to be the “in 310 days” speech that culminated in the 2001 victory in Ann Arbor.
I never viewed Coach Tressel’s speech as a challenge that would bring him mockery if Ohio State did not win.  I immediately felt like “Finally.  A coach who gets it.”.
The mere fact that Ohio State was able to go into Ann Arbor, a place where they had not won since 1987, and ruin Michigan’s Big Ten championship hopes, were just too good to be true.  And in the back of my mind, I pictured Coach Cooper sitting by himself in a room, with a single light bulb hanging by a thread, with a bottle of bourbon on the table, repeatedly asking, “How could you do in your first try what I could never do in thirteen years?”.
Jim Davidson
(We asked Jim to send us somewhere around 200 words. He chose the 1,000 words below instead.)

23 Responses

  1. Coach Tressel was the right person in the right moment in time. He turned OSU football around and it hasn’t stopped. Long live Senator Tressel. Go Bucks!

  2. Cooper was a great coach and arguably had more talent that JT. Cooper didn’t realize the magnitude of the MI game, nor could motivate his players once they got down-see vs. MSU in ’98. Cooper was always one key win away from doing some very special things. JT changed all that beginning by dominating the TTUN. Urban understands that as well. To me, MI true dominance began to fade with the firing of Moeller, while TTUN won a questionable title in ’97, those MI teams were nothing like the teams under Bo or Moeller.

    1. Kurt- true UM “dominance” began to fade in 1951. UM went from 1951-1967 with ZERO Big 10 titles. Woody and Earle did more than hold their own vs UM while UM was living on results from the 1920s. Since you and I have been kicking, the dominant team has been OSU- even with the Cooper years that merely provided the most major award winners of any D1 school in the 90s and a couple #2 final poll rankings. OSU’s ‘bad” is FAR easier to take than UMs. And Um won a co-title, NOT a title. Don’t get caught in the trap of playing their own game!

  3. Ruth & I got to know Coach Tressel well during his second stint at the U. of Akron. A good man who had his feet planted squarely on the ground. All the students loved & respected him. Did an outstanding job at my Alma Mater & will do just as good or better at Youngstown. OSU was VERY lucky to land Meyer. Will never happen again!!

  4. Great article. I remember it as if it were yesterday.

    I have a friend that I served with in the military who happens to be as big of a fan of the Wolverines as I am of the Buckeyes. I remember him saying “What’s a little small-time coach like that gonna do?”

    Well I guess we found out didn’t we? GO BUCKS!!!!

  5. Tony- I’ve avoided commenting on your articles, and will continue doing so, precisely because of the fluff you’ve provided with your intrusion- whoops, INCLUSION- in Tom’s article now. Michigan football has HARDLY been a bully for “the better part of a century”. They’ve been an afterthought since their last clear title in 1948, SEVENTY years ago. OSU had a couple decent coaches- I think their last names were Hayes and Bruce- who handled their business against UM just fine, thanks very much (combined record something like 21-15-1 I believe). Even Coach Cooper, vilified by so many, coached two teams to a final #2 national ranking while UM wasn’t sniffing those kinds of results, regardless of OSU’s results vs UM itself. Of course Coach Tressel’s tenure provided many great moments. When an article calls for a memory of those moments, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to actually provide one? There’s no need for “Once upon a time…”- THAT’S WHAT UM FANS HAVE TO DO. Sheesh.

    Now, in the spirit of providing an actual memory, here’s one for everybody. Maurice Hall scoring on the option pitch vs UM in the 4th quarter, Columbus, 2002. Final score 14-9 good guys, I was there and will never forget it!

    1. Tony,
      I enjoy your “fluff” enormously. Thank you for all that you do. I read most of what is written on OZone, but look forward to your articles the most.

      1. Can’t please everyone Tony 🙂

    2. “Tony, I’ve avoided commenting on your articles”. Oh, really? You’ve practically made a hobby of it in the last 6-8 months, Mr. Longtime Fan. Tony’s articles are usually informative, and always fun to read. I enjoy reading his “fluff”, and will continue to enjoy it. Too bad you don’t.

      1. Yes Walt, I walked away from the drooling hero worship articles and haven’t commented on any in a couple weeks. Please accept my most sincere apology for not including the word “recently” in the first sentence of my first reply- at least, my most sincere apology for YOU. It offends my sensibilities that the cotton candy seeped over into one of Tom’s articles and I expressed that opinion.
        Back in the world of actual thought, EVERY point I made in my first message was spot on. I know there are those of you who tend to overlook such things as historical accuracy when unicorn stories invade; however, I’m not one of you.
        And Kevin- “agreed, haha”? Well said, Dostoevsky. How do you keep the drool from pooling on your keyboard when you type?

        1. Silence from the Willy Wonka crowd….Ahhh!

        2. Mr. Longtime Fan, you are very good at attacking the messenger, whether it’s Tony, me, or Kevin, or whoever as part of your way of defending yourself. That’s really not necessary, and is normally something reserved for either ten year old kids or ancient Greek kings. I know you are neither, and I really don’t know why you do it.

          1. Walt- I fully believe in your lack of knowledge! If you go back to reading Tony’s articles you won’t be burdened with reading anything more from me. That’s what I meant when I made my earlier point- I’m done wasting my time on them. If you wish to stick to the articles about hypothetical scenarios involving non- existent championships and the players who could have helped OSU “win” them, or if you are curious about players who transfer to UM and somehow want to read about that on an OSU site (!), our paths will not cross again. I’m going to focus on the entree section of the O-zone menu and have been doing so the past couple of weeks. If you stay in the dessert section our paths won’t cross. Capisce??

            1. “I fully believe in your lack of knowledge”. Okay. It’s nice to hear you have such a firm belief in something, Everyone needs something to believe in. I am happy to help you in that regard. But if you’re talking about my lack of knowledge of Buckeye football, well, I’m certainly no Jack Parks, but I read both the “entree” and “dessert” articles on the Ozone, so I consider myself a well-rounded person. You are, of course, free to read what you please. I don’t really care what you read. BUT, in the interest of full disclosure, I attended my first OSU football game in 1956, when I was eight years old. Been a Buckeye fan at least since then, through thick and thin. Last game I attended was in 2006 I believe, when OSU beat Michigan 41-39. Of course, I live in Montana, and don’t get back to Ohio much any more. So how much could I possibly know?

              1. Walt- I’m going to try this again. You see, I wrote a response to you a couple hours ago that magically “disappeared” from the comments section. My response contained ZERO foul language and was not threatening in any way- but its been censored. The short version is that I am staying away from the softie articles because they are a waste of time, Walt. If you don’t want to read my comments and wish to continue reading the puff articles, your wish has been granted. At this point you would be searching me out if you want to comment- but that’s actually how its been anyway, hasn’t it?
                Wonder who censored me? Gee Davey, I don’t know…

  6. Surprisingly he is probably the most underrated OSU coach given his accomplishments and the state of the program he turned around. One question to put it in perspective…what has Urban Meyer accomplished at OSU that Tressel didn’t? I say that because Meyer is being hailed as the greatest OSU coach ever by many and this is being labeled the “golden era”. So answering that simple question and lining it up year by year at OSU should really bring some persoective.

    1. I don’t want to split hairs too much because the Tressel era was great for Ohio State football. But IMO Meyer has raised the bar in several ways.
      1) Consistent excellent recruiting. Tressel had one top-5 class in 10 years; Meyer has had several in 6 years.
      2) Overall winning percentage: Tressel 81%, Meyer 90%. Big difference.
      3) Generally we perform better in “big games” under Meyer than we did under Tressel (Clemson notwithstanding). Under Tressel we had developed a bit of a paper tiger reputation.
      4) I contend that the team is more FUN to watch than it was in the previous decade. A more modern, dynamic offense. And the stats back up that perception.

      1. A more modern dynamic offense? So clearly you haven’t even watched the last 3 yrs…are you aware our base play is the QB Power dive? Modern…dynamic? Big games huh…check bowl records and wins v. Michigan. Those are our big games. Mirror images. You site win %, well I site B1G Titles. You site recruiting classes, we I site NFL Draft (you know the measure that really shows how well you recruited). Again, it’s practically mirror reaults.

  7. I always liked Coach Tressel. He wasn’t flashy, his strategy drove you nuts sometimes but all he did was win. I always enjoyed listening to his post game comments and his interviews. He was always classy, witty, and respectful. His demeanor on the field always represented the program in a positive light. You never knew if the buckeyes were up by 40 or down by 40 watching him on the sideline. It was a great 10 years of Buckeye football with him at the helm. I think he is definitely responsible for turning the tide against TTUN over the last two decades. I felt really bad for him because of the way it ended and always felt he was made the fall guy. But he also had culpability in that whole god awful mess and he paid a huge price. I hope he is always remembered for the great 10 year run and not for how his career ended.

    1. With those 11 words, Coach T laid down a marker and a standard that OSU football was going to play to – and they did. It was exactly what Buckeye Nation needed to hear at the exact time we needed to hear it.

      Like Tim Weaver, Ioved Jim T – for the wins he delivered, especially vs. TTUN, and just who he was as a man – faults notwithstanding.

      But by around 2004-05 I couldn’t listen to the man speak publicly. He mastered the art of speaking for tracks of time without saying anything

      “Coach Tressel, what do you think about xyz?”

      “Well, anytime people find themselves in a challenging situation like that, they need to blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada, etc.”

      Drove me up a wall. Great man. Love him to this day. Never want to hear one more word of his coach-speak.

      1. Buckeyenut- you are definitely right about the coachspeak. I found it to be demeaning to the listeners, as he likely knew only hardcore fans would be listening to those interviews and decided to tap dance when people wanted real input. Lots of fun watching the games in that timespan for sure.

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